Profiles in Green: The Role of Communication in Worldwide Corporate Environmental Management

By Heger, Kyle | Communication World, April 1992 | Go to article overview

Profiles in Green: The Role of Communication in Worldwide Corporate Environmental Management


Heger, Kyle, Communication World


Chevron Corp., headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., is training 3,000 executives and managers in the art and science of environmental management- government regulations, personal liabilities and the philosophy of risk management. The president of Dow Canada, Sarnia, Ont., through an annual "Environmental Care Award" offers prizes to employees who have helped protect the environment. Impala Platinum, a division of Genmin, Johannesburg, South Africa, has sponsored a contest asking grade school students to draw pictures showing how cars cause pollution.

These are just a few of the communication programs that businesses around the world are undertaking as environmental management moves to the top of the corporate priority pile.

Of course not all these efforts are communication activities. Often accused of "greenwashing"- talking about the environment, rather than actually rolling up its sleeves and protecting it - the corporate world can now point to a host of environmental protection activities.

Here are a few examples:

* Wildlife preservation

Santee Cooper, a state-owned electric utility company headquartered in Moncks Comer, has constructed 200 predator-resistant nesting boxes to help the embattled South Carolina wood duck.

* Habitat protection

After finishing operations at a Brazilian bauxite mine, Alcan Aluminium Ltd., headquartered in Montreal, replaces top soil and reforests the site with native trees.

* Recycling

Konica Corp., Tokyo, markets a recyclable camera, the single-use "Film-In." Konica U.S.A. Inc. pays photofinishers five cents for each camera they return, then recycles its plastic and cardboard parts. Konica Canada Inc. offers photofinishers a choice: At the end of each year they can either receive a credit for each camera they returned, or donate this credit to environmental groups of their choice.

* Pollution control

Gengold, another division of South Africa's Genmin, created a patented gold-extraction process called "Biox," in which gold is extracted from refractory ores by the use of bacteria, instead of by a roasting process that causes major pollution problems.

* Donations

The chairman of BankAmerica, headquartered in San Francisco, recently announced that his bank will take up to U.S. $6 million in debts owed by Latin American countries and give them to World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and Smithsonian Institution so they can help preserve rain forests in Mexico, Central America and South America.

What has led to this flurry of activity? Our review of these, and other major corporations worldwide, reveals that the trend is fueled by a mixture of environmental conscience and business savvy.

In a 1991 report on the environment, Konica states: "The stakes are too high for us to ignore conservation of resources, recycling of raw materials, maintaining the health of the ecosphere: These are issues that take their place along with quality, safety, and cost/performance in the design and manufacture of Konica products."

What exactly are these stakes?John Rainey, chairman of the board at Santee Cooper, sums them up: "They are no less than the habitability of our world and the survival of our species."

To some extent, the corporate sector seems to have internalized the value which the larger society places on environmental protection. Polls at Chevron, says Robert D. Harrer, coordinator of strategic environmental programs, reveal that employees' opinions on the environment generally mirror those of the general public.

But, corporate environmentalism is also reactive, a response to pressure from outside sources, such as activist agitation and government regulations.

Referring to growing regulations on water pollution, Fred Dawkins, editor of Newsline, a publication of Fletcher Challenge Canada, Vancouver, B.C. …

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